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Free clothing boutique set to open despite COVID-19 challenges

Marjorie's Hope boutique has been offering clothes to Pasco County teachers since 2018. Now, it's opening its doors to any county school employee.

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Debi Shackowsky and her band of volunteers have been working double-time this year to prepare for another Marjorie’s Hope teacher boutique. 

The storefront shop, filled with free clothing items for teachers in Pasco County, has been running multiple times per year since 2018.

Nothing about 2020’s boutique has come easily.

“We’re not even going to talk about the stress right now,” Shackowsky said.

Credit: Marjorie's Hope boutique

Shackowsky serves as the founder of the Pasco County-based non-profit Marjorie’s Hope. It was started by Shackowsky following the death of her sister, who loved children and spent her life trying to help kids be prepared for school.

The presence of COVID-19 in Florida has complicated the process of getting supplies donated for the boutique. The shop, which is open to all employees of Pasco County Schools, offers free clothing and accessory items to men and women. There are also classroom items available. 

In years past, it’s been a major hit. More than 8,000 clothing items have been picked up by county employees since the boutique’s inception.

“This is still a baby project that just grew up very quickly and the response was very positive,” said Ann Flanzbaum, the boutique project manager. “The very first time we had it, it was just for teacher and then there was just such a need it’s now open to any school employee.”

Clothing at the boutique is all donated and either new with tags or gently used. There is a wide variety of sizes for both men and women. However, none of the clothing will be available to try on at the boutique because of coronavirus. 

The virus canceled the planned boutique opening during spring break. Clothing has stacked up in the meantime. Shackowsky and her team are eager to open the doors of their donated storefront again.

“COVID has been a disaster on so many levels,” Shackowsky said. “So many delays in ordering, backorders and backlog in shipping because everyone wants shipments yesterday. That’s just the beginning of our story.”

When the boutique opened two years ago, Shackowsky saw major community involvement. The shop gave away 548 pieces of clothing and 120 accessory items to 135 teachers in its first day. It only grew from there.

Credit: Marjorie's Hope boutique

“I recall working the boutique the first year and being stunned by the number of teachers who came in,” said Laura Luter, an assistant principal at Gulf High School for three years.

One of Marjorie’s Hope’s biggest outreaches each year is its backpack donations. Despite COVID challenges, more than 3,500 will be delivered to students in 2020 who have been identified by their schools as in-need. To date, Marjorie’s Hope has given away thousands of backpacks since forming as an “unnamed and unknown” outreach in 2003. They received official non-profit status in 2015. 

It’s more of a mission and calling than a job for Shackowsky. Marjorie’s Hope had to cancel its main fundraising effort due to COVID-19. Instead, they resorted to other fundraising campaigns to raise money. An anonymous donor gifted them a donation match up to $7,500. The group also received a $10,000 grant from the BIC company. All those donations will help bolster back-to-school essentials for area kids.

The boutique, however, is designed to help employees who often run out of time and money after putting their personal resources towards their own children and students.

“Every time I go in and tell them about Marjorie’s Hope boutique, my teachers line up to go. They love that opportunity and it’s one stressor off their plate,” Luter said. “Their focus is keeping things safe for the kids. Keeping the focus on what kids need to learn and so clothing becomes an afterthought.”

Marjorie’s Hope is grateful for the donated space in New Port Richey but is looking for other opportunities for housing the boutique. The storefront is likely to be rented soon and Shackowsky needs another preferably donated unit to store her clothing. She’s looking for something around 2,000-square feet.

For more on Marjorie’s Hope, visit its Facebook page.

The 2020 boutique opens from Wednesday, July 15 to Saturday, July 18 at 5228 SR 54, New Port Richey. The storefront will have limited occupancy but will remain open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

Items are available to Pasco County School employees only. Employees must show school I.D. to enter.

Masks will be available to purchase.

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